Learning What It Feels Like to be Married 16 Years

Today, May 23, 2014 is our sixteenth wedding anniversary.  It feels like we said “I do” just yesterday.  I’m learning it feels this way because our relationship has been full of love, adventure, trust, laughter, forgiveness, support, belief in one another, and God’s Spirit.  I am grateful for every year, and look forward to every new beginning.

Happy Anniversary, Brooklyn!  I love you.


Learning How Long It Takes to Influence 8th Grade Boys

It has taken me an entire school year to influence a small group of 8th Grade boys.  Summer break is still two and a half weeks away, so technically it hasn’t been the whole year.

I expected it to happen sooner.  I am not that old.  I’m certain they don’t see me as too young, either.  Plus, I’m married to their youth pastor.  Shouldn’t that give me automatic credibility?

Six months into my commitment as their small group leader, I was ready to start issuing “timeouts” or raise my white flag.  I tried everything.  At least everything I could think of.  We talked sports.  We joked around.  We watched Vine videos.  They compared selfies (8th Grade Boys love taking selfies of their abs).  I had individual conversations/lectures with some of them.    I separated them into a private room away from the other middle school small groups.  I asked them to raise their hands before talking.  I even threatened to call their parents after the first warning.

None of it seemed to work, until it did.  Nine months later. My guys finally had a great small group.  They showed respect.  They spoke in turn.  They listened to me and to each other.  They offered thoughtful answers.  They grasped the truth of the message.

Looking back on the year, I realize it wasn’t a stroke of my genius that made the difference.  The breakthrough didn’t happen because of any one thing I did.  It comes down to one simple factor:  time.  Over time these boys have grown to trust me.  Time allowed my influence to settle in and breakthrough their doubts or concerns or fears.

I can’t say how long it will take you to influence a group of Middle or High School Students.  One thing I do know for sure is, it is time worth spending.

Is it worth your time?

Learning to Let God Define Me

psalm139The world’s definition of “me” (by “me,” I also mean you) will steal my soul and defeat my spirit, beating me up to the point of submission.  It makes you a slave to a system that suckles your life for its own gain while starving you.  You are a pawn in a game of economics and power struggles, used to protect what’s most precious to someone else regardless of the affect it has on you, your family, or your future.  Eventually, it will leave you for dead.  That is, if you let it, because you don’t have to.

It was an article about a Turnspit dog that brought to mind the world’s view of me.  These little dogs don’t exist today.  You would need to time travel back to Britain in the sixteenth century, where you would find one in most large kitchens.  It was bred to spend it’s life there, in a wheel turning a spit over an open fire.

It used to be a job reserved for the lowliest person on the kitchen staff, normally a small boy.  Large families with abundant wealth loved to feast on beef, turkey, or pork over a roasted fire.  To do so required placing the meat on spit (stick) and constantly turning it over an open fire.  Ingenuity finally gave the poor boys relief with the idea of breeding a dog to do the job.  Hence the name, Turnspit Dog.

A large wheel was mounted on the wall close to the fire.  A cable ran from the wheel and attached to the spit, turning it in sync with the wheel.  It was the dogs job to turn the wheel by running inside of it.  To train the dog to keep a swift pace, they would throw a hot coal in the wheel for motivation.  The dog was basically a kitchen utensil.

Eventually, technology brought the dawn of a machine to turn the spit.  Turnspit dogs were no longer needed, until eventually they ceased to exist.

After reading the article, it hit me.  If the world has its way, it will use me just like a Turnspit dog.  But, there is another who would like to define me.  The One who created me.  Read Psalm 139:13-18.

God’s definition of “me” nourishes your soul, protecting you from the hunger and starvation caused by the world’s definition.  It defines you as a beloved child, a daughter or a son.  It brings life to you and makes it eternal.  It takes the best and worst of everything about you and uses it to redeem what’s broken in our world.  You are no longer a pawn, your are royalty.

I like God’s definition of me, better.

What defines you?

Learning 2 Precepts from Best-Selling Book, ‘Wonder’

wonderWonder is the story of a fifth grade boy’s first experience at public school.  Auggie is not your typical fifth grader, though.  He has a deformed face.  What unfolds is a story of struggle, fear, friendship, bullying, and triumph.

One of Auggie’s teachers gives his class a monthly precept, a saying to live by.  I discovered two worth considering again and again.  The firs one comes from a speech by the school principal, Mr. Tushman, at the school’s graduation ceremony:

  • Shall we make a new rule of life . . . always to try to be a little kinder than is necessary?   What a marvelous line, isn’t it?  Kinder than is necessary.  Because it’s not enough to be kind.  One should be kinder than needed.

The second precept is given to us by Auggie.  Part of his summer project was to come up with one and mail it to his teacher.  This is what he came up with:

  • Everyone in the world should get a standing ovation at least once in their life because we all overcometh the world.

If you had to write a precept for an assignment, what would it be?

Learning the Audience is the Hero

stageI think about preaching/speaking nearly every day.  Partly because it is my job to deliver a sermon each week, and partly because I want my words to make a difference.

I might be justified in blaming the evangelists who visited my little church in Logan, Ohio.  It feels like yesterday that I was sixth a grader sitting on a church pew listening with ears wide open to traveling preachers.  I sat in awe of their ability to hold my attention and move my heart, saying to myself, “I want to do that someday.”

Here I am, 24 years later, doing it.  My desire is the same. I want the words that I say and the way that I say them to hold an audience’s attention and move their hearts.

So, everyday I work on and seek new ways to improve the talents God has given me.  At this stage in my development, Nancy Duarte’s book Resonate is speaking volumes into my practice.  One thought among many, is the formative idea that “the audience is the hero.”  She writes:

“Changing your stance from thinking you’re the hero to acknowledging your role as mentor will alter your viewpoint.”


“Changing your stance from that of the hero to one of wise storyteller will connect the audience to your idea, and an audience connected to your idea will change.”

Thinking about the audience as the hero changes the “why” behind my preaching.  It shifts the focus from information to transformation.  Rather than ask the audience to accept facts, you invite the audience to participate in creating a new reality.

I’m learning to see heroes when I preach.  It is not up to me to be the hero.  It is my privilege to call forth and inspire the hero in you.

How do you view the audience when you speak or preach?


Learning the Top 5 Ways Single Mothers Want to be Empowered

Picture 4Tears and laughter filled our church’s cafe on Saturday morning for our single mother’s tea gathering.  Our hope is to encourage and empower single mothers to lead their homes with strength and confidence.  It is also our way of saying, “We want to walk beside you and help carry the burden.

We believe parenting is more than an individual task, it is the responsibility of a community.  God’s community.  To sit aside and watch a family struggle is to neglect our calling as the people of God.  As the body of Christ, your burden is my burden.  Your family’s future is our family’s future.  One way to live in this reality, we believe, is to empower single mothers.

Gathering the single mother’s in our church for a mid-morning tea is a start for us.  It is a beginning step we are taking toward building confidence and support for each family.  One of our goals for the event was to gain feedback from the mothers regarding skills they would like to learn.  Based on suggestions by other single parents, we created a list of skill-sets.  We invited each mother to mark every skill she would like to gain.  Here are the Top 5:

  • Car Maintenance
  • Self-Defense
  • Home Improvement
  • Understanding Credit
  • Plumbing & Electrical Issues

The next step is organizing ways to empower women with these skills.  Within minutes of the tea gathering ending, a team of leaders were already planning what to do next.  One of them emailed me, “Still smiling today about all of the things we can do to help our single moms!”

I am grateful for a church with leaders who live with a passion to serve others and change our world.

What can you do to empower single mothers in your church, life, work, family?

Learning What Mothers Teach Us About Faith and Love

Mom and MeThe type of faith and love required to become a mother is something every person should learn to imitate in one’s own life, especially those whose desire it is to follow Jesus.

It is a type of faith that goes out into the vulnerable, great wide open where the possibility of the bad is high but an opportunity for good is greater.  It is a faith that steps into the unknown, in search of the promise of what can be.  There are no guarantees, only hopes and dreams.

Think of the vulnerability of pregnancy and childbirth.  The courage it takes to share your body with another living being, allowing it to shape and form how you both look and feel.  Then nine months in, the mother confronts the physical strains and medical unpredictablities of giving birth to new life.  If that’s not enough, each mother faces the unknowns of nurturing her own child, whether it is nursing her with mother’s milk or interpreting the intricacies of each little cry.  All the while these changes are happening, every mother considers the future with her child, knowing that she will probably fall short along the way.  She’s wondering, Where will I get it wrong?  Will I be able to make it right?  Can I help this precious child learn to walk in the right ways?  Will my child even listen to me?  How do I show how much I love her?

A mother’s faith moves her to venture out into all the unknowns for the sake of a life that she imagines is possible.

The type of love to it takes become a mother is one that “casts out all fear.”  She understands “there is no fear in love” (1 John 4:18).  For with fear, she would never put herself through the difficulties of pregnancy, childbirth, or nurturing a child into adulthood.  There is too much at stake.  Too much could go wrong.  The possibilities for failure are impossible to predict or control.  Yet, a mother sets all of these aside for love.  A love that hopes, dreams, and never gives up on the beauty of what can be.
I want this type of faith and love in my own life.  A willingness to go where I have never been before, despite any fear of the unknown, because God has given me a vision of what can be.  Not motivated by my own good pleasure, but by a Godly yearning for love and true intimacy.  
Thank you, Mom, for showing me this type of faith and love.
Thank you, Brooklyn, for allowing me to stand beside you as you exemplify this faith and love with our precious daughters.
Thank you, all moms, for giving our world something worth imitating.
What have you learned from your mother?    


Learning to Empower Leaders to Flourish

Plumeria FlowersThere is a vast difference when you lead as a favor and when you lead out of passion.  Our goal as leaders should be to empower other leaders to serve from the deep well of passion inside of them, if we expect them to flourish.

It’s great to have someone on my team lead based on our relationship.  I can ask, “Hey, would you be interested in serving our ministry by _________________?”   Because we developed a relationship of mutual support, I know the answer will probably be yes.  There are others I may not know as well who will also say “yes” based on their view of me as their leader.  Out of respect for my position, they will accept the challenge.  I deeply appreciate people like this.  They lead even when it’s not their “cup of tea,” because they care enough to fill a gap.

As much as I am indebted to those who lead as a favor to me, I notice a significant difference with those who serve out of passion.  At no fault to the former, I have witnessed an increase of effort, commitment, and creativity among the latter.  It is like something is unlocked.  A switch turns on a deeper level of leading.  One leads with a purpose greater than completing a task or meeting a need.  The impetus shifts toward fulfilling a passion to make an impact in our world.

It’s like planting a seed in the perfect soil, in the perfect location, in the perfect climate.  Flourishing is made easy.

It’s up to me as a leader to empower you to lead out of passion.  I shouldn’t try to force a triangle block into circular hole.  It is not a good fit.  Chances are it will never work the way I think it can or should.  You are not created that way.

How do you empower other leaders?



Learning Inclusive Language Promotes Equality

inclusive languageThe Church of the Nazarene believes it is time to amend its language to reflect the denomination’s commitment to gender equality.  The equality of men and women has been a value of the denomination since its inception in 1908.  Now it is time to let the language speak this truth.

I wish this proposal would have come through a few years earlier, it probably would have saved some frustration.  I’ll get to that later.

If you have no idea what I am talking about, I will try to make it simple.  For centuries we have used the masculine word ‘man’ or ‘men’ when speaking of both male and females.  Rather than choose a noun or pronoun referring to both men and women, the default has been to use the male version.  An example is given in the proposed amendments to the Church of the Nazarene’s Manual:

RESOLVED that Manual paragraph 27.1, item 3, be amended as follows:

27.1  First.  By doing that which is enjoined in the Word of God, which is our rule of both faith and practice, including:

3.  Being courteous to all [men] people

Take a second look if you didn’t catch it the first time.  It used to say “being courteous to all men.”  The proposed change is that it read, “being courteous to all people.” Quite a difference.

The other proposed change looks as follows:

5.  Seeking to do good to the bodies and souls of [men] people.

Sounds completely different, doesn’t it?  The implications for our imagination to include women is much improved.  The words call to mind more than a male image.  Women are no longer subject to or limited by the language of masculinity.

Back to my wish.  Using inclusive language was a requirement of the seminary I attended.  Part of the grade awarded our papers was the use of gender inclusive ways of referring to others.  It was all new for me at this point in my life, but I understood.  So, I did everything I could to practice it in all areas of my life.  Including church.

Being married to a youth pastor meant I would spend countless hours with teenagers.  If I was going to spend every Wednesday Night, Sunday morning, and Sunday night with them, I thought I might as well teach them something.  Something I was learning, like using gender inclusive language.

Ooooh, what I thought was a good thing turned out to be a bad thing for our pastor.  Let’s just say he wasn’t appreciative of my approach to language.  To him, inclusive language wasn’t necessary.  More so than that, inclusive language was nearly heretical to him.  I lost that battle, and walked away with some wounds to prove it.  Had this proposal been given before then, maybe some frustration could have been saved.  Maybe.

Even more than my own frustration, though, is the negative experience of women in ministry and in our churches who have endured male-dominated language for so long.  The power of language is greater than words that come out of your mouth.  Language influences the way we understand and act in our word.  For 106 years, our language has been counterintuitive to a commitment to gender equailty.

That was then, and this is now.  I thank God for where we are today.  Gender inclusive language is our new norm.

What other amendments do you think we should make to our language?

Learning 4 Food Recipes My Family Loves

kirra cookingMy New Year’s Resolution for 2014 includes a challenge to cook one new food recipe a week because I want my daughters (Kirra and Mya) to think of home as a place to find their favorite meals.  It has been eighteen weeks, and I have discovered four recipes my family loves that may become family favorites.

Cinnamon Syrup.  One morning, I made french toast and realized we were out of syrup.  With no time to go to the store and a child crying for syrup, I googled a recipe.  Thinking simple first, I then discovered a cinnamon version.  Now, it is my daughter’s favorite.  For the recipe, click on the following link:  cinnamon syrup recipe.
Ropa Vieja.  Our family’s first taste of this dish was at a friend’s house.  It is a traditional Cuban recipe, which is why the family prepared it for us.  We all loved it.  I found a slow-cooker version and tried it out.  Instant hint.  The only problem is the spicy-ness factor, which is easily solved by eliminating or reducing the portion of jalapeno.  For the recipe, click on the following link:  ropa vieja recipe.

Classic Deviled Egg.  Funny story.  I have always liked deviled eggs, but never made my own.  We were invited to our friend’s house for Easter, which provides a great opportunity to try.  I did.  My oldest daughter (Kirra) was hesitant to try, but was glad she did.  “Daddy, will you put this in my lunch,” she asked.  “Sure,” I said.  When she came home from school I asked her, “How were the eggs.”  “I loved them,” she said, “but all the kids at my table sad they were stinky.”  I laughed so hard.  So, if you can stand the smell, you can see the recipe by clicking on the following link:  classic deviled egg.

Shredded Chicken Tacos.  This recipe is as simple as it gets.  I made it up on my own, though I am sure it is not original.  It includes:

1 – 32 oz Chicken broth

2 lbs of boneless chicken breasts

Your favorite seasoning

1/2 chopped sweet onion

2 bay leaves

2 packets of taco seasoning

Directions:  Season chicken on both sides with your favorite seasoning.  Don’t be too conservative.  Place chicken in slow-cooker.  Cover chicken completely with broth.  Add onion and bay leaves.  Cook on low for 8 hours or more.  Drain broth and discard onions and bay leaves.  Cover bottom of a large pan with olive oil and warm over medium heat.  Add chicken, stirring regularly.  Add both packets of taco seasoning according to instructions on package.  Serve with your favorite tortillas and toppings.  And don’t forget the fresh guacamole.

If you’ve read to this point, chances are you are probably hungry by now.  Try one of our favorites.  Or share your favorite with us in the comment section below.

What is your favorite recipe?